Photo by Michael Glasgow / Illinois Athletics
Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State will match up this Saturday in Champaign.
Both teams are coming off of big wins last weekend. The Buckeyes knocked off No. 9 Indiana, 42-35. That was a lot closer of a game than most people thought it would be. Illinois is coming off of a dominating win, beating Nebraska 41-23.
This was a game where Illinois was 16.5-point underdogs. This was also the first game that Illinois was completely healthy.
That goes to show that we still don’t know how good the Fighting Illini really are still in year No. 5 under Lovie Smith. This shouldn’t be a close game, but Illinois could potentially keep this game closer than most people think.
What the heck is the Illibuck?
Yes, Illinois and Ohio State technically is a rivalry. This rivalry revolves around a wooden turtle that is named “Illibuck.” Greatest rivalry trophy in all of sports? Sure.
Believe it or not, back in the early 1900’s, Illinois was Ohio State’s biggest rival — not Michigan. The trophy started in 1925, although back then it was actually a live turtle. The reason that a turtle was selected is because of their long lifespans. That was supposed to symbolize the long rivalry between Ohio State and Illinois.
Well, story has it that the real Illibuck died just two years later after escaping from an Illinois fraternity bathtub. That is why the trophy is now a wooden replica. So, this is what the Fighting Illini and Buckeyes will be battling for come Saturday.
Last Week’s Match-ups
Illinois traveled to Lincoln last weekend to take on Nebraska. Nebraska was favored by more than two touchdowns. Well, the line should have been the other way around because the Illini dominated.
Illinois outgained the Huskers by nearly 100 yards. The defense also held its opponent to under 400 yards for the first time this year. More importantly, the defense forced five turnovers, while the offense didn’t turn the ball over once.
Regardless of who you’re playing, that puts you into position to win just about every time. Since Illinois’ little COVID-19 outbreak — thanks to Wisconsin — this was its first game with everybody back.
Brandon Peters was back under center and he looked fantastic. The offensive line finally looked like one of the best in the Big Ten too. Both Peters and the offensive front will need to keep that going in the match-up on Saturday.
Ohio State is once again the best team in the conference. Last weekend, the Buckeyes hosted top-10 Indiana. After Ohio State led 28-7 at halftime, this turned into the type of game everyone was rooting for.
Indiana came back, and actually had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to tie it up, but fell to the Buckeyes, 42-35. Indiana made Ohio State’s defense look vulnerable in the second half.
The Hoosiers passed for 491 yards. However, they finished the day with minus-1 rushing yards. This was by far quarterback Justin Fields’ worst game at Ohio State, throwing three interceptions. Ohio State still found a way to win though, which ultimately is all that matters in the end.
More than likely, this will not be a close game. Ohio State should, and probably will dominate the Illini all game long. However, the Illini do have the weapons to make this a close game.
Illinois probably isn’t the team with the best chance to knock off the Buckeyes, but it does have the pieces to make it happen. The Illini have Josh Imatorbhebhe at wide receiver and Ohio State’s defensive backs struggled last week against Indiana receivers. Illinois also has one of the best running games in the conference.
When it comes to the rushing attack however. Ohio State completely shut down the Hoosiers last week. The Illinois defense gives up plenty of yards, but it is known to force turnovers. An upset is unlikely, but it’s good for Illini fans to remember this week that anything can happen.
Fields realistically will tear up the Illini secondary and Ohio State’s run game should do just as well. It comes down to if Illinois can force turnovers as to whether Illinois can remain competitive or not.
Just keeping this one respectable would serve as something to build on. Illinois should come out firing in the first quarter, too. With all of the momentum after the last two weeks, it needs to just continue what its been doing — forget that it’s the Buckeyes lined up on the other side and just continuing doing what’s worked.
Ohio State has the better athletes, and probably will pull away in the second half. This will be a nice measuring stick game to see how far Illinois has come since a rough start.
This contest begins at 11 a.m. CT and will air on Fox Sports 1.
Ohio State 52, Illinois 28